Sunday, October 15, 2006

Good reading

Last Saturday I was digging through the shelves for something to read. A trip to the bookstore wouldn't fit into the agenda. My little town's library is usually closed by the time I can get to it, and nothing on my shelves appealed. This meant raiding the womanchild's room. C., getting rather annoyed with my shuffling around in her room while she was there, asked what I was looking for. My response sent her into action, and she gave me a stack of books and the order to read them. The kid did good.

First on her list was The Center of Winter by Marya Hornbacher. This book tells the story of a family hit by mental illness and suicide. It's a tale told as cleanly and starkly as the cold plains in which it is set. The central theme is the quiet courage it takes to keep living when it would just be so easy to stop. The book is peopled with rich characters and filled with tiny details that make it real. I found myself wanting to button the character's sweaters, give them their medications, and refill their drinks. These people needed someone to take care of them but found the ability within. I was both rushing to the end, desperate to find some evidence of recovery and hope and unwilling to put the book down. I'm going to enjoy re-reading this book. Hornbacher is also the author of Wasted, the best book on living with an eating disorder that I've ever read.

Second on the list was White Oleanders by Janet Fitch. I was leery. This was an Oprah Book Club selection. It and the subsequent movie were ubiquitous a few years ago. Now, why that should make me suspicious, I don't know. After all, East of Eden, just about my all time favorite book. was also in her book picks. I just distrust anything that gets too popular, a position with both its merits and flaws. The old adage about not judging a book by its cover was soundly reinforced. I simply loved this book. Devastatingly harsh, unrelenting in its grim reality, exquisitely beautiful, this exploration of the cruelties and love of being mother and daughter is simply haunting. California is painted as dangerous, lush, ugly, exotic and beautiful as the women in the story. When a location is so strong in a book that you cannot imagine the story taking place anywhere else, the place becomes a character for me. The atrocities of the foster care system and the genuine love held by many foster parents could be transported to another place, but it still would not be the same. Astrid and Ingrid will be with me for a long time to come. I've never seen the movie despite having the dvd. I think it might be on today's agenda as the backdrop for folding laundry. I'm almost afraid to watch it. This book is haunting, and I don't want the movie to replace the book in my mind.

Next in the stack she gave me is Naked Lunch by William Burroughs. It's been a long time since I've read this, and I'm not sure I'm up to it. Strong, surreal, vivid, another excellent read is what my memory of reading it a few decades ago is telling me. I'm just not ready for The Center of Winter and White Oleanders to be upstaged by another book.


Blogger alphawoman said...

Iloved White Oleander. I think I have read Wm Burroughs long ago. Your daughter has quite the taste in literature! I was apprehensive about Oprah's book club, but the books were always wonderful, until that one ....I could not finish it, thought I was almost at the end...the Jonathon Franzen (sp)one...just too disinterested in the characters. One thing about Oprah, she sure got America reading!!

October 15, 2006 10:10 AM  
Blogger Nelle said...

Wow C is very mature in her reading selections, kudos to her. I have not read White Oleander but I certainly will after reading your comments. I have read about many books here that I have read. You are always spot on. Thank you for sharing these good reads.

October 15, 2006 10:55 AM  
Blogger Shelina said...

Those sound like good books. I went ahead and ordered Center of Winter from the library.

I'm sure that your daughter was honored that you asked her to recommend some books. I think I should do the same. I think you can learn a lot about a person from the books they recommend.

October 15, 2006 10:58 AM  
Blogger Vicky said...

I have been meaning to read Naked Lunch for some time - I somehow missed it in my youth. The first book sounds wonderful, but to be honest, I really didn't like White Oleander - I found it kinda contrived. But then, if we all liked the same things, life would be sort of dull, wouldn't it? Thanks for the other recommendations!

October 15, 2006 10:05 PM  
Blogger silverlight said...

If a book is made into a movie, always, always see the movie first. Because if you read the book, then see the movie, you will always be let down.
Because, you see, they are two different stories. But, well, that's Hollywood.

October 17, 2006 12:28 PM  
Anonymous Professor Zero said...

Very nice post, I have never read any of these and I can now see why I should.

October 17, 2006 8:46 PM  

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